Editors’ Roles: Relating to Chapter Contributors

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Collaboration is a MethodSpace focus for December. We will look at the various types of collaboration that engage researchers and academic writers. Depending on the editor’s style and the purpose of the book, editing a book collection can involve collaboration with contributing writers.

Chapters by different authors define the edited book. Once you have selected the chapters to include, you will need to think about how you will work with contributing authors to make sure that the book project proceeds as planned.

See related MethodSpace posts on Envisioning an Edited Book, Proposing an Edited Book and Editors’ Roles: Selecting Chapters.

Whenever we are dependent on other people, we must realize that communication and coordination will be essential to success. This is certainly true for edited books! In the time that passes between acceptance of the initial proposal and the deadline for the final iteration for the chapter, many other projects have undoubtedly emerged to compete for our authors’ attention. The need for timely completion of each stage of the process means we need to lay out clear expectations. We want to avoid being in a situation where our role involves haranguing authors to complete the chapter and make revisions that could have been avoided. The way we convey our expectations may vary greatly depending on the type of book, prior relationships with authors, and/or our own personal styles.

Work and Communication Styles

Based on my own experience as an editor and chapter author, I have observed two general ways editors can relate to contributors.

Editorial styles can be administrative or collaborative

On one end of the spectrum we have the administrative style, on the other end a collaborative style. While the first kind of editor takes ownership of the book, the second kind tries to build a sense of shared ownership.

The administrative, transactional editor strictly follows the publisher’s guidelines and review protocols. Communication with authors is formal, and focuses on requirements and due dates for submissions. No channels are offered for communication between contributing authors.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have supportive, collaborative editorial styles. Edwards (2012) observed that edited volumes can break through the isolationism inherent in the sole-authored publishing. She noted:

Ideas are able to circulate and debates take place in between the conferences. Significantly, communities of scholars with like interests can also emerge from the collaboration generated by collaborative edited volumes. The global networks of each individual author can be brought into the new community of contributors and shared. (Edwards, 2012, p. 63)

A relational editor can bring Edwards’ points to life, by developing a sense of community of practice and fostering collegial relationships among contributors. This kind of editor may offer coaching to authors beyond formal review comments.

I present these styles on a continuum, because they are not strictly either/or, that is, we may need to use different styles throughout the project. We might project a more formal role prior to selection of chapter proposals, particularly when a double-blind peer review process is used, and take a more informal, collaborative approach as the book is assembled.

Style examples used in two books

Once again, I used two different review approaches for the books I edited. The Handbook of Research on Electronic Collaboration (J. E. Salmons & Wilson, 2009) was my first experience as an editor. The publisher required a double-blind peer review, which set up a formal style of communication with contributing authors from the outset. This large project included 50 chapters from authors from 26 countries, so there was little time to develop personal rapport with each contributor. I observed the limitations of this formal approach, because I had little opportunity to lay the groundwork for projects or publications beyond the book at hand. While most of the authors cooperated, and sent in their drafts and revisions on time, a considerable effort was required to track down missing chapters.

Summary of roles and styles used when editing books

In contrast, I already knew many of the contributors to Cases in Online Interview Research (J. Salmons, 2012). I interviewed several of them for background research on a previous book, so I was very familiar with their work. The style of this book involved commentaries by authors on other’s chapters, which meant it was important to set a collaborative tone for the project. It also meant I needed an accessible way to share completed chapters with the entire team of writers. I created a private wiki that allow for easy exchange. When I think about a future edited book, I intend to use this collaborative style again. I would like contributing writers to feel invested in the success of the book and proud to be a part of the project. I intend to invite experienced experts on the subject to contribute, and to engage them in the thought-process and key decisions for the book as a whole.

Should you edit a book?

After considering these key questions and options, are you inclined to edit a book?

  • Are you prepared to take responsibility for the vision and plan for an edited book?
  • Do you want to provide a comprehensive overview on a topic, or form a new synthesis of findings from multiple sources?
  • Do you want to create a collection of related writings on a new important area of research or inquiry?
  • Are you ready to contribute some of the book’s content, including an introduction and summary to link your vision with key ideas from contributor’s chapters?
  • Do you have fantastic organizational skills and enjoy working with other researchers and writers?
  • Are you prepared to take the responsibility for finding contributors, selecting and coordinating contributions, and ensuring quality?

Please use the comment box to share your experiences, goals, or questions.


Edwards, L. (2012). Editing academic books in the humanities and social sciences: Maximizing impact for effort. Journal of Scholarly Publishing, 44(1), 61-74.

Salmons, J. (Ed.) (2012). Cases in online interview research. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Salmons, J. E., & Wilson, L. A. (Eds.). (2009). Handbook of research on electronic collaboration and organizational synergy. Hershey: Information Science Reference.

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